I didn’t have especially high hopes for Alcotraz, London’s new ‘bring your own alcohol’ cocktail bar. Tickets are ambitiously priced at £33.99 a head, begging the question, if alcohol isn’t included, then what exactly are you paying for?
Well, the first thing is a Dayglo orange jumpsuit, which made my arse look the size of Guantanamo Bay. (Ladies, do yourself a favour and wear something without a skirt, unless you want to look like you’re in nappies.) Mike, at 6’ 6”, looked like a radioactive Pepperami. The second thing is a preposterously good-looking prison guard demanding to “check your bag for contraband” (i.e. making sure you’ve fully grasped the concept of the bar and have brought enough contraband to get you and your chums through the evening).
On the basis that more is more, Mike and I arrived with a tote bag clinking with bottles of Sipsmith gin, Bulleit bourbon and East London Liquor Company spiced rum, which may have been a bit OTT but if you’re paying for the talents of a professional mixologist, why not bring half the liquor cabinet? (You don’t lose the booze you don’t use, obviously. The barman will come and collect your bottle for each round and then drop it back to you with your cocktails.) There was a group of four who came in with a bottle of knock-off Smirnoff from the off-licence next door because it was ‘the cheapest vodka they had’, which did not seem very much in the spirit of things to me, but each to their own.
It’s hard to talk much about the experience without ruining the surprise, but the highlight of the evening was the crew of prison guards and the terrifyingly poker-faced warden, who prowled the bar doling out push-up punishments for backchat and having her lackeys flip mattresses in search of contraband. The space is divided into cells of varying sizes with benches and tables made of lavatory seats, so it works as well for big groups as it does for date nights – possibly even more so; there was a hen party in attendance having a whale of time.
If you’re really naughty – like Mike, who turned out to be a really subversive little shit in the face of authority – you might end up in the hole. Infuriatingly, he won’t tell me what that entailed exactly, but he did seem to come back a little more pissed than before. (“I seen things, man,” he says, with an expression he thinks is deep and meaningful, but in reality looks like a bird has crapped in his eye.)
The mixologists are fellow inmates who sidle over to you periodically to take your order. You hand over your booze and there’s a surreptitious conversation about what kind of flavours you like – sweet? Sour? Smoky? – and then a few minutes later your drinks appear. Our mixologist was great and really paid attention to our requests – we had a raspberry-tinged Dark & Stormy with the rum and an especially lip-smacking Whiskey Sour with the bourbon. They don’t mind making different drinks for the group too if your tastes don’t align; Mike’s gin cocktail was a sweet, fruity one with pineapple juice, mine was lighter and more like a sherbety Elderflower Cooler.
We found the service to be brisk and just about squeezed in five cocktails each – definitely not bad for a bespoke mixology experience with a bit of immersive theatre thrown in, even if you do have to bring the hard liquor. (There is 10% off any booking with the code CONFESS10, which softens the blow somewhat.) The sessions last an hour and three quarters, but we did find we were chivvied out pretty quickly at the end, presumably to make room for the next batch of ne’er-do-wells.
Alcotraz is not for everyone. You do need to get into the silliness of it all and be prepared to do a bit of role-playing (fortunately I have a B in GCSE Drama), but if you like to see a gimmick done well and, of course, drink cocktails, then it’s worth a visit. Take your most dramatic mates and a selection of your favourite poisons. I’ll see you on the other side.
Alcotraz, 212 Brick Ln, London, E1 6SA
Header image credit: Matt Martin via Alcotraz
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.